Growth Mindset VS Fixed Mindset: A Dragon Ball Z Example!
Do you enjoy learning by challenging yourself? Or do you avoid new challenges altogether, due to fear of failure? Think carefully, because your answers on those questions might signal whether you have a Growth Mindset or a Fixed Mindset.
Although these academic psychological constructs have been well documented in years of solid scientific research, their formal definitions might not be as easily understood by those without that same academic background.
You better learn about the two mindsets, because one of them is currently operating and having a profound impact on your life! With or without your awareness! That’s why I’m going to explain the growth mindset vs fixed mindset by an example almost every student can understand: DRAGON BALL Z!
Growth Mindset VS Fixed Mindset: A Dragon Ball Z Example!
1. What is a Fixed Mindset?
To get a good understanding of the difference between growth mindset vs fixed mindset, it is easier to start with explaining what a fixed mindset is. Dr. Carol Dweck, is the psychologist who discovered the existence of both growth mindset and fixed mindset through her scientific research on personality, achievement and developmental psychology.
Having a fixed mindset simply means that a person believes his or her qualities (intelligence, skills and character attributes) are set in stone (Dweck, 2017). A fixed mindset tends to be the default adopted mindset in society at large and therefore, perhaps more recognizable.
Fixed mindset individuals believe everyone is born with a certain amount of intelligence and skill and that you can do little to nothing to change that. You’re smart or you’re not. You’re either naturally good at a certain skill or you’re not with little room for improvement.
As a result people with a fixed mindset go through life avoidant of challenges that might lead to failure. Their self-esteem depends on intelligence and competence, basic characteristics which they believe to be finite uncontrollable aspects.
They fear failure of any sort, because that would reflect back to them that they’re insufficient, dumb or incompetent. As they hold the belief that traits (intelligence and competence) are fixed, failure would automatically mean they’re inferior at their core forever as human beings, because according to this belief there would be nothing you could do to improve those traits.
People with a Fixed Mindset Protect their Self-image
You can imagine that to fixed mindset individuals, failing a college exam, encountering someone who knows more than them or even the normal struggle that comes with learning a new skill isn’t an opportunity for growth to them, but a struggle for survival. What that survival entails is protecting their self-image by not looking or feeling deficient.
People with a fixed mindset therefore obviously don’t enjoy learning or taking on new challenges. They’re constantly trying to prove themselves worthy. Only taking on things they are certain of that they can complete successfully.
But when those inevitable moments of failures in life happen, they’re constantly trying to convince themselves and others of something else (Dweck, 2017). Why? Again, because their self-image and self-esteem depend on it. It is not hard to picture that depression and anxiety are always lurking just around the corner when a challenge arises for people with a fixed mindset.
Now that you have a general understanding of what a fixed mindset is, let’s take a look at a famous Dragon Ball Z character that showcases the fixed mindset perfectly! (* Spoiler alert for anyone who didn’t see the Dragon Ball Z series).
2. Fixed Mindset Dragon Ball Z Example: Frieza the Alien Tyrant
No other Dragon Ball Z character portrays the manifestation of the fixed mindset better than the intergalactic tyrant Frieza. Frieza is the second son of King Cold, an evil mutant alien with an extremely high power level (millions). As such the powerful mutant genes got passed on and Frieza was born with that same absurd power which made him the strongest being in his Universe (Dragon Ball Fandom, 2020).
With this insane power present from birth, Frieza never had to train or work for his might. His father King Cold who dominated their Universe, saw potential in him from a young age and soon handed his control over to Frieza. As he was the strongest being in his Universe, Frieza abused his power by conquering planets and enslaving its inhabitants.
Due to being notorious for his unprecedented strength and menacing personality, no race or planet under his evil reign dared to even think of overthrowing him. The ones who tried were obliterated in an instant. He saw anyone as beneath him, since no-one could match his abilities.
Due to possessing such power from birth, the spoiled Frieza never faced a real challenge or failure and truly believed he was the mightiest because of his innate traits.
Frieza’s Fixed Mindset: A Closer Look
Now, do you see the fixed mindset in Frieza? He was born with a great amount of natural power and never had to train or work for this, believing he is the mightiest due to natural innate factors. Later in the series he does train to get stronger, but his initial arrogance displays that he thought he was way beyond needing training.
His fixed mindset also shows in his entitled and contemptuous demeanour as he thinks anyone who is less powerful must be worthless, and therefore to be used as a means to an end. Frieza never encountered true challenges or failures. Within the series he even says he never experienced physical pain beside from his parents as there wasn’t an other living being powerful enough to hurt him.
All of this sets him up for an important event we’ll discuss later on. One of the planets he enslaved was the planet Vegeta, home of a warrior race named Saiyans. This becomes significant further down the line.
3. What is a Growth Mindset?
Having a growth mindset means that a person believes his or her basic qualities can be cultivated by effort, strategies and help from others (Dweck, 2017). Although people can differ greatly in the amount of natural talent, interests, temperaments and intelligence, growth mindset individuals believe that one can grow if they apply themselves by learning and getting experience (Dweck, 2017).
To them the secret to success is consistent effort. Now do they falsely believe that everyone can be the next Maya Angelou, or Einstein just by trying hard? No, but they do however see their future potential in an optimistic way as they consider that full potential is unknowable unless you try. They believe anyone can at least grow beyond their starting point.
People with a Growth Mindset Persevere through Adversity
Growth mindset individuals actually enjoy learning and challenges, because they know that they’re getting better even if they fail. Failure is not the end, but the beginning as it points out what you don’t know or can’t do YET. As they tend to push forward even when encountering failures they actually do get better at whatever skill they’re honing by the amount of extra hours of experience they gain.
Where fixed mindset individuals would think of themselves as losers when failing an exam. Growth mindset individuals would say to themselves that they need to study harder for the exam next time. As they attribute success or failure to a controllable factor like effort, they tend to hold a more positive self-image and self-esteem even in the midst of failures as they believe and know by experience that they could overcome them by working harder.
4. Growth Mindset Dragon Ball Z Example: Goku the Super Saiyan
Goku and his race at large are the embodiment of the growth mindset. Goku belongs to the alien warrior race named the Saiyans who’s home is planet Vegeta. Saiyans are a strong, aggressive and prideful race, reminiscent of primitive barbaric tribes. Despite their lack of technological development, Saiyans have a special fighting ability to grow stronger from each battle they encounter even when they lose.
Together with their aggressive and combative nature, the Saiyans were a formidable warrior race. Frieza and his father recognized their potential early on. They conquered planet Vegeta and enslaved the Saiyan race to be used as special military pawns that would greatly improve Frieza’s vile practice of conquering planets.
Even though planet Vegeta was taken over by Frieza and his army, his reign did bring the Saiyans in contact with more advanced technology like spacecrafts. Frieza had a system in using the Saiyans for conquest. The Saiyans had an army which consisted only of elite Saiyans.
Baby Saiyans were ranked ‘elite’ or ‘low class’ based on their power levels at birth (Dragon Ball Fandom, 2020). The elite Saiyans joined the army which was sent out to take over tough planets for Frieza.
Low Class Saiyan, High Class Mindset
Low class Saiyan babies were often sent out alone in a spacecraft to planets who were deemed weak, so that even these low class Saiyan babies could conquer them. Goku was born on planet Vegeta under the reign of Frieza, but at birth categorized as low class and sent to Earth.
Goku training on his way to Namek
As he loses his memory after an accident, he turns gentle and builds a life filled with friends on Earth. Despite being typed as low class from birth, Goku’s character is defined by his unwavering optimism, ironclad perseverance and insatiable hunger for challenge and growing his fighting abilities.
During the series there are numerous dangerous alien fighters that threaten the Earth and all of its inhabitants. Goku always faced these fighters in battle even-though his chances of winning were slim.
By persevering, Goku managed to overcome even the most dire situations and grew stronger from them. He had a laser focus when it came to training and preparing himself for future obstacles and was determined to always push beyond his limits even enjoying it when times got hard.
Goku’s Growth Mindset: A Closer Look
Now, do you see the growth mindset in Goku? From birth he was considered a low class Saiyan by his own people. He had perhaps a power level of just a couple hundred. They might have been right about this at the time, but it didn’t stop Goku from growing stronger.
Goku had to work hard. By training and facing challenges head on, he grew his fighting abilities over time. His growth mindset is apparent in his characteristic optimism and excitement when in a challenging situation. For instance, when he fights prince Vegeta on Earth and finds out that he might not be able to beat him, he smiles and tries even harder.
His growth mindset also shows after beating the Saiyan prince. Goku lies in the hospital recovering from battle, but then hears there is a far more powerful foe (Frieza) out on planet Namek where his friends went to find the Namekian Dragon Balls.
Goku immediately gets up out of bed and starts his training while in his spaceship traveling to Namek. On the ship he pushes beyond his limits by training under 100 times the Earth’s gravity and reaches an all time high in power in just five short days.
5. Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset: Frieza vs Goku!
In the final events of the search for the Dragon Balls on planet Namek, Goku’s progress is blatantly obvious as he now stands toe to toe in battle with the almighty Frieza to protect his friends. Although Frieza isn’t using his maximum power yet, Goku holds his own in battle. Now here is where the two different mindsets come in and determine the outcome of their battle.
Frieza’s arrogance made him not take Goku seriously. He amused himself by toying with Goku in the beginning as Frieza could have easily won if he fought at his maximum from the start. Goku on the other hand was seriously engaged and fighting phenomenally. Goku’s extremely high power level acquired through training did impress Frieza.
Now that Frieza powered up to half of his maximum, it became painfully apparent that Goku was in fact outclassed all this time. Goku was now losing the battle rapidly, but he kept fighting and putting in the effort, regardless of it being impossible to win. Although powered up to half of his power, the alien tyrant was still toying with Goku.
Together with Goku’s training, effort, his Saiyan ability to rapidly grow stronger in challenging battles and his elite level battle experience against the almighty Frieza, Goku got pushed over the edge. A golden edge to be exact, which made him reach the ultimate power of Saiyans: The Super Saiyan transformation.
The Golden Transformation: Super Saiyan Goku
As Goku transformed into a Super Saiyan mid-battle his strength increased to unimaginable heights and now was even stronger than Frieza. Goku was now beating Frieza for real, but since the alien emperor never experienced a true challenge in all of his life, his ego got shattered. For the first time Frieza was losing while fighting at his maximum power.
Super Saiyan Goku vs Frieza
Frieza couldn’t handle that his lifelong presumed almighty unbeatable status was getting destroyed at the hands of what was deemed a low class Saiyan pawn. The battle continued for a while but it was already lost. Frieza the Alien Tyrant now too distraught to fight properly got defeated by Super Saiyan Goku.
Frieza always leaned on his natural given power, thinking he was invincible. Even though he was beyond powerful, his fixed mindset made him stagnant in his strength as he hadn’t improved much, perhaps since birth. Who knows which heights he could have reached if he actually trained? His inability to handle failure was in the end arguably his only true failure.
6. Where does a person get a Growth Mindset or Fixed Mindset?
After all of those examples you might wonder where someone gets either a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. Well, these mindsets developed ever since we were children and were shaped by our parents’, teachers’ or coaches’ quality of praise (Dweck, 2017). In other words, what did your parents praise in you as a child when you did something great?
Did they praise your intelligence as a permanent trait? Or did they praise the amount of effort? Dweck (2017) states that there are many subtle and not so subtle ways in which parents can convey messages to their children about what they as parents value. Children are very sensitive and pick up those messages unconsciously. Therefore it is very important to know what you believe as a parent and what you’re communicating to your children.
In her book Mindset: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential (2017), Carol Dweck dives deep into the origins of the two mindsets, their day and night difference in life outcomes and how you can cultivate a growth mindset even if you started out with a fixed mindset. I recommend that you read her amazing book!
Thanks to the amazing Dragon Ball Z example we now know that carrying a growth mindset is far more conducive to success than a fixed mindset. I enjoyed writing this article very much, because I’ve been a Dragon Ball Z fan from an early age!
The growth mindset portrayed by Goku always inspired me as a young teen to work hard and never give up and I’ve carried this approach into my adult life. Whenever I had a tough exam or a challenge I thought about Goku’s training in the spaceship and how strong you can become if you keep working on yourself.
This message had a profound impact on my perseverance and I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had given up during some of those tough times in my life. You can see this article as a tribute to the classic Dragon Ball Z series and the growth mindset! Now, which mindset do you carry?
Food For Thought
1. Which mindset do you carry? Growth mindset or Fixed Mindset?
2. How did you develop this mindset?
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Dweck, C. S. (2017). Mindset: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential. Great Britain: Clays Ltd. Book
Dragon Ball Fandom (2020). Frieza [Web Page]. Retrieved from https://dragonball.fandom.com/wiki/Frieza#Background
Dragon Ball Fandom (2020). Saiyan [Web Page]. Retrieved from https://dragonball.fandom.com/wiki/Saiyan
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